In my first article, I explained and proved five basics of good communication— logical speech, face-to-face interaction, attentive listening, truthfulness, and depth of content. I took the time and space to do so to aid us in honest evaluation of whether our use of technology has been detrimental to our good communication. I pray that you were honest in your self-examination. Evaluation of my own personal life, as well as my observations of others, convinces me that our use of technology today is indeed inhibiting good communication.
But my concern is not only that our overuse of technology is threatening good communication. My concern is that this leads to weak relationships. Mediocre forms of communication are forming mediocre relationships—with each other and with God.
To understand the seriousness of my unease, you need to realize that good communication is absolutely necessary to every relationship. When a young man and woman are soon to be joined in marriage, I sometimes in pre-marriage counseling make this overstatement: There are three ingredients to a healthy marriage—communication, communication, and communication. The point is that good communication is essential to a good marriage. And that is true of any relationship. Young people who do not actually speak to one another usually are not friends. Teenagers who think it is lame to converse with their parents typically do not have a good relationship with them. High school buddies who do not maintain contact after graduation grow apart. Why? Because good communication is the means by which people both experience and strengthen bonds of friendship. Good communication is the life of a relationship.
There is a mysterious power in the words that one human being exchanges with another. When deep, logical thoughts are arranged into truthful sentences and breathed out into the ear of another who receives them with careful understanding, an invisible binding takes place. Through friendly dialogue there is a knitting together of hearts. On the other hand, if there is miscommunication, evil communication, disjointed communication, or no communication at all, damage to or even destruction of the relationship will follow.
Not only is good communication essential to earthly relationships, it is also vital to our relationship with God. We can even say that good communication is the way God saves us! Having chosen us in Christ, and having paid for our salvation with the blood of his Son, God begins the conversation with us by regenerating and calling us to faith through the gospel. With his word and by his Spirit, He communicates with us, especially through the preaching. In this way, we hear him speak to us. Having heard him, we respond by His Spirit; that is, we communicate with Him, prayerfully expressing our faith, repenting of our sin, and worshipping him for his precious forgiveness. Good communication is absolutely necessary for our relationship with God.
Having saved us in this way, God sanctifies and preserves us through such communication also! Think about our worship services—they are a means by which our faith is strengthened. We often think of going to church simply to hear a sermon, but what is going on in our entire worship service is communication—a holy dialogue or conversation with God. He speaks, “Beloved congregation in the Lord Jesus Christ,” and we respond, “Our help is in the name of Jehovah who made heaven and earth.” He speaks a benediction, and we respond in song. He speaks his law, and we respond with another song. We speak to him by praying and confessing our faith, and he speaks through the scripture and preaching. We sing doxologies, and he blesses us through benediction. Back and forth, back and forth, there is a meaningful conversation in worship. This communication is how our hearts grow in relationship with God.
This continues throughout the week. Devotions mainly consist of meditation upon scripture and prayer, because in a personal manner, God continues his conversation with us. He speaks as we read the Bible, and we respond when we pray. Through each day, as we pursue our individual callings, he reminds us of his word, and we pray to him continually. In this way, we have a continual conversation with him. In this way, our relationship with God is built and fortified. If a believer has a close relationship with God, his entire life will be filled with conscious communication with him.
To explain it in slightly different terms, good communication is necessary for a covenant with God. The biblical term, you see, for our relationship of friendship with God, is covenant. In order for us his people to have and experience this covenant, there must be good communication. Without good communication (begun by him, of course), there will either be no covenant with God or a very weak experience of such valuable friendship.
Now think. If Satan is trying to attack our relationships with each other and our relationship with God (and you can be sure that he is), then what do you think he is going to aim for? Indeed, he has his sights on the very building blocks of our relationship: communication. With great cunning, he works with technology night and day to interrupt, make shallow, halt, and destroy good communication. In doing so, our relationships with each other and with God greatly suffer.
I warn you of this because I personally feel these attacks as well. I not only notice some of the negative effects of technology on communication among others, but I experience it in my own life. I feel a struggle in my family life, in my devotional life, and in my mind itself as Satan seeks to make my use of technology detract from my communication with those closest to me. I know him to be successful at times, and am disgusted at the thought that he has used technology to the detriment of my relationship with my children, my wife, and my God! If we truly cherish our relationships with each other and with God, then good communication should be of great concern to us.
Knowing how essential good communication is to our relationships, let us go back to the five basics of good communication and ask some questions. Is your logical speech affected by your use of technology? Do you know how to speak clearly in complete sentences, or are the abbreviations and run-on clutter of device chatter dumbing down your speech? Do you know how to keep a conversation going without a phone? Do you know how to describe verbally how you are feeling without an emoticon? Instead of conversing after church, do you find yourself habitually going to the car to snapchat or text another young person in the same church parking lot? Would you rather text your parents or talk to your parents? When you sit around a table or in a living room, how much of that time is interrupted by a device? You may laugh at these questions, but I ask you to take them seriously. My observations of you and my own life make me conclude that the technological way of communicating is distracting, detracting from, and even destroying our logical speech with one another.
Is your face-to-face interaction affected? Do you know how to make eye contact when you talk to someone, or would you prefer to use an iPhone to contact them? Is face-to-face conversation your go-to method of conversation, or is it Facebook and Facetime? Are you seeking out a date in person, or is it through Snapchat or some other form of social media? As a pastor, I seriously wonder if people do not look me in the eye when I talk to them because their use of technology is eliminating that ability! The distant way of communication through today’s technology might make conversation more comfortable, but it is also removing the basic structure of face-to-face conversation that is essential to our relationships. Frankly, many are so accustomed to screen communication that they are terrified at the thought of actually talking to a real face.
Is your ability to listen attentively being affected? How often does it happen that your attention to your loved one is arrested by a tune, beep, or vibration, which feels more important than your present conversation? When your parents are talking to you, do you hear everything they say, or do your efforts to multi-task on a laptop, tablet, or phone make you miss their point? Are you getting so used to the stimulation of five or more conversations going on at the same time on your device that you find it difficult to pay attention to one conversation even when you put technology aside? How is your attention span in church, class, or day-to-day conversation? Young people, it has been scientifically demonstrated that the hyper-communication through the electronics of today impacts your brain’s thinking. Specifically, it reduces your attention span. If the overuse of technology is making all of us suffer from short attention spans, can we not see how that will affect the development of our relationships with one another?
Is truthfulness being affected? With less face-to-face interaction, the pressure to speak the truth drastically diminishes. It is much easier to lie to a person over the phone than it is to do so in person. How easy is it nowadays for you to text, tweet, or post a lie? Many are getting so used to dishonesty over social media that their consciences are no longer bothered. Blogs of false doctrines and posts full of deceit surround us on the internet. You can make your life look perfect on Facebook. You can photo-shop your pictures, construct a bogus profile, hide all your flaws, and present to the world someone very different than who you really are. Through social media, consciences are getting numb to guile. With easy communication comes the ease of lying, and it is slowly taking a toll on our relationships.
Is your depth of content in conversation being affected? Is it even possible for the content of a chat or tweet to be deep? Through technology, you might be able to share a video of a sweet dunk, pin an outfit idea, or communicate snippets of information, but how many deep conversations actually take place? Are your minds getting so shaped by shallow conversations that you cannot think deeply, much less converse deeply about any one topic? Does the quantity of information at your fingertips help you, or have you begun to respond to this information overload by trying to think about ten things at once, never getting deep with any? Are you able to store information in your memory, think critically about the same, and then articulate your original thoughts in conversation? Or has your overreliance on technology made you a lazy thinker and talker with no depth to your conversation? If your use of technology is filling in your conversations with shallowness, you can be certain that shallow relationships will result.
My greatest concern, however, is our relationship with our God. If our use of technology is negatively affecting how we listen and talk to each other, then would it not also affect our communication with God? When he communicates with us through logical speech, face-to-face encounters, with truthfulness and depth, are we able to receive it with attentive listening? The glazed-over looks and sleepy eyes that I see from my vantage point on the pulpit in worship make me concerned that technology is weakening our ability to listen to God. After listening to him speak to us, are we able to respond to him with the same good communication of logical speech, consciousness of his face, and with truthfulness and depth? When many people admit boredom in church and coldness in their devotional life, I am concerned that our overuse of technology might be the issue. One nasty side effect due to the overdose of the digital drug is deficient intimacy in our relationship with God. We must beware that our abuse of the ever advancing technology may result in a church similar to the people in the time of the Judges. “There arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord” (Judges 2:10).
It is time to take drastic action by gouging out chunks of technology usage from our lives. These devices are not evil of themselves, but they may be devices of the devil, used to tempt and destroy us. We may need repentance of this kind: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29). Jesus is not saying that we must literally pluck out our eye, nevertheless, the meaning for us in this technological age may be a plucking out or a cutting off of certain devices which we often treat as such precious body parts.
I am confident that God will preserve his people in the midst of this dangerous technological age. The warning of this article is not meant to bring doubt to our minds concerning his unfailing covenant with us. Yet we have a duty of gratitude before God to show that we cherish his covenant with us by guarding and nurturing our relationship with one another and with Him. Let us seriously re-evaluate our use of technology, making the necessary changes in our lifestyle for the benefit of closer experiences of covenant with God and each other.
*Rev. Mahtani is pastor of Cornerstone Protestant Reformed church in Dyer, IN.